Grant Shapps, Minister for Housing and Local Government, speaking during the Future of Town Centres and High Streets debate in the House of Commons on the 17th January 2012 –
As I am speaking in this debate, it would be remiss of me not to mention that the wonderful town of Hatfield suffers greatly from the same problems that many Members have described. It was a new town, and so bright was its future when it was set up. Unfortunately, partly because of the situation that has been mentioned—the road and the cars were taken out of the town centre, and the life was sucked out of it—it has struggled to have a renaissance. As the Minister taking the response to the Portas review forward, I can assure right hon. and hon. Members that I have personal experience of a failing town centre that needs to be rescued. That is why I take many of the measures suggested in the review so much to heart. Car parking was the No. 1 concern mentioned by Members in the 54 contributions. It is absolutely right, and in fact quite obvious, to say that in today’s society, when people either do not need to get into their car at all because they can simply click on something with a mouse to buy it or, if the option is available, as it now is in most parts of the country, drive to a shopping mall or shopping centre, an uncompetitive high street with high parking charges will always make a retail district suffer. It is absolutely essential, even in these incredibly tough times, for local authorities to appreciate that hammering the motorist visiting the local shops will not be the solution to the area’s problems, and certainly not to those of retailers.
This is complete gibberish, for several reasons.
Cars have not been ‘taken out’ of Hatfield town centre – if anything, they have been sucked in by a gigantic ASDA superstore, with an enormous car park, built right in the centre of the town, that is – naturally – easily accessible by motor vehicle. Here is a satellite view of Hatfield town centre.
The pedestrianised centre of Hatfield lies to the upper right. The enormous ASDA supermarket is easily spotted in the centre of the frame, flanked by its large car park to the south-west.
The presence of several large roads in this image also serves to demonstrate that you can drive into Hatfield town centre very easily.
In addition to the parking available at ASDA, there are four council-run car parks in close proximity, around the town centre.
I’m not quite sure on what grounds, then, that Shapps is able to maintain – with a straight face – that the car has been ‘taken out’ of Hatfield town centre, when there are plenty of car parks plastered all over it that are easily accessible; or indeed, how he is able to present the cost of parking as a problem here, when it is free. One could say that his comments are grossly misleading.
You would think he would know better, given that this is his constituency.
It is true, of course, that there are a number of pedestrianised streets and plazas in Hatfield town centre on which you cannot drive your car – the area flanked by the car parks. It is also true that these are the areas which are blighted, and suffering. Shapps is correct when he says that the life has been sucked out of Hatfield town centre. It is dying.
The big colourful billboard overlooking a dismal precinct of crumbling concrete and brick proclaims: “A new town centre for Hatfield.” The remaining shops, surrounding cracked paving stones and pools of water in a large, deserted square, struggle to survive alongside boarded-up and shuttered units. As a testament to the vagaries of 1960s architecture, this is as bad as it gets.
Here is an image of one of these streets –
The photographer comments
You would be forgiven for thinking that this photo was taken on a sunday evening but it wasn’t. This was taken at 12:30 on a Wednesday afternoon.
Why Shapps thinks the alleged exclusion of the car from Hatfield town centre represents the cause of the problem here is quite unfathomable, because it is beyond simple to park up at a very short distance from these streets, at no cost.
To my mind, the whacking great ASDA dumped a few yards from these shops might be a more obvious reason, a conclusion reached by the same photographer, who again comments
This supermarket dominates the town centre. See other images of this square to get a feel for the impact that it has had.
And if a superstore parked right next door to the town centre retail outlets wasn’t enough of a reason, we also have a gigantic shopping centre on the A1(M) as it flanks Hatfield – the Galleria, which contains an extensive range of all the kinds of shops you find on a typical high street.
It has 1,700 parking spaces, 80 shops, and is less than a mile from Hatfield town centre.
Do you think this might be having an effect?
But Shapps – for some curious reason – fails to mention either the influence the Galleria, or indeed ASDA, might be having on the town centre of Hatfield. Instead, his diagnosis for the decline – the sucking of life from the town centre – is, to repeat,
the road and the cars were taken out of the town centre
Which is, needless to say, a facile, empty-headed analysis, that ignores the fact that cars and roads have not been taken out of the town centre at all, and simultaneously fails to diagnose the real reasons for the decline, namely strategic town planning.
Shapps imagines that allowing cars to drive and park all over the existing pedestrian areas in Hatfield town centre, like that pictured above, represents some kind of ‘solution.’ It cannot be, for precisely the same reason that providing free parking yards away from these shops has not worked. Set against the inertia of a vast shopping centre, and a superstore, the notion that allowing people to park fractionally closer to these shops, or to drive past them, is going to change anything at all is laughable.
It is car-centric planning that has sucked the life out of Hatfield town centre, not the inability to drive through a handful of pedestrianised streets that already have free car parks right beside them.
Just look at how the life has been ‘sucked out’ of the car-free centre of Groningen
A miserable scene from a car-free street in the Marais district in Paris
What were those crazy Parisians thinking, excluding the car here
This street in my town, Horsham, is clearly lifeless now that car use on it has been restricted
The soulless car-free Market Square in Bruges
The visibly dying car-restricted High Street of Guildford
Thanks to @John_the_Monkey